Saturday, October 11, 2014


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (10/8/2014)


          The other day a woman tried to comfort another woman who had lost her teenage son in a traffic accident by saying, “He’s in a better place now.”   Ever so slightly, the grieving woman pulled away and fell, sobbing, into the arms of a gruff-looking, burly man who had lost his wife of forty years to cancer.  He said nothing at all while he softly cried and gently stroked her back and shoulders, sharing her grief.  She was in one of those “dark places” where, as Saint Paul said, “our sighs are too deep for words.”

Life is full of dark places, empty places, where things don’t make sense.   When the absurdity is writ large, it’s called a tragedy, and we cry.  When it’s writ small, it’s humor, and we laugh.  Death is certainly one of those experiences that don’t make any sense at all, absurdities writ large.  For almost of all us death is a tragedy when there is nothing to say.  Knowledge doesn’t stand us in good stead.  Faith is what allows us to abide when there are no answers.


Of our nine to twelve emotions, depending on how they’re counted, surely fear, grief, and humiliation are the worst to bear.  The thrust of these emotions is inward, and they’re negative and debilitating.  Sometimes words of advice can ameliorate the stings of humiliation and fear, but for grief there are no words.  Grief is the emotion without answers.  Only those who want to avoid their own grief distance themselves with platitudes and empty words.  To sympathize one must touch his or her personal grief, and since it is so painful, many resort to platitudes.


This is one of the reasons why we love dogs.  They sense our emotions, sidling up to us, letting us pet them as though they were absorbing our pain, giving us a sense of relief.  One can feel the stress ease while stroking the back of a dog or feeling the muzzle with its wet nose brush our hand.


Years ago after I returned home from a triple by-pass, open heart, operation, for the first time in my life, I felt fragile.  Our dog, Roxie, was offended by the residual odor of the hospital still clinging to me and kept her distance.  After a few hours, she overcame the offensive hospital odor and lay down beside me, nuzzling me with her cold, wet nose, as if to say, “I’m here.”  I sighed a sigh of relief.   


Touch is the fundamental way we communicate with one another.  The communication begins in our mother’s arms and at her breasts.  Both children and animals wither without touch, and part of the sorrow of touch nowadays is that it is so disused in our cyber and digital age.  We actually believe that an email is enough.  A hug is far better than “how ya doin?”


Releasing the stresses of grief through sharing our pain with others who’ve touched their own grief is the beginning of renewal.  There is never “closure” on grief.  Only fools think that.  Its sting may lessen with time, but there is no closure.


One of the elemental qualities of a garden is releasing the pain of our grief.  Jesus repaired to the garden at Gethsemane as he faced the grief of his coming death.  A garden is a matter of life and death, how plants come to die, and how they are reborn out of their deaths.


A garden begins with touch, the feel of the soil, the texture of the plants, holding life in our hands and an overwhelming sensory experience of seeing the colors and shapes.  Then there are the scents of life, hearing the rustling of leaves and twigs, and tasting the fresh fruits and vegetables.  The feel of a garden is closely akin to the embrace of someone else who shares our grief.  In the midst of death there are signs of renewal and life in the embrace of someone who in touching their own grief has touched ours.

Albert Camus wrote:  “In the depth of my winters I finally learned that there was in me an invulnerable summer.”

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2014

Dana Prom Smith and Freddi Steele edit Gardening Etcetera for the Arizona Daily Sun.  Smith emails at and blogs at




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